As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Liam Martin.
Liam Martin is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Time Doctor and Staff.com — one of the most popular time tracking and productivity software platforms in use by top brands today. He is also a co-organizer of the world’s largest remote work conference — Running Remote.
Liam is an avid proponent of remote work and has been published in Forbes, Inc, Mashable, TechCrunch, Fast Company, Wired, The Wall Street Journal, The Next Web, The Huffington Post, Venturebeat and many other publications specifically targeting the expansion of remote work. The mission statement that feeds all the products and services that Liam is involved with stem from empowering workers to work wherever they want, whenever they want.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 10 years 10, starting a remote tutoring company out of graduate school and moving on to becoming very passionate about how to build and scale remote teams. That led to working on Time Doctor and Running Remote, the largest conference on remote work and studying how remote teams are built and become successful.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Mistake #1: Not going to a paid beta fast enough. We were in free beta for six months and collected feedback from users who weren’t serious about paying for our product in the first place. As a result, we wound up going in a completely different direction for the company (personal productivity vs. company productivity) and lost quite a bit of revenue in the earlier days.
Mistake #2: Not paying our technological debt for over five years (we weren’t auditing our technology stack and updating major parts of it on a regular basis). I remember being at our company retreat in Bali and having a meeting with the infrastructure team ‘guaranteeing’ that we were stable with our growth rate over the next year. Two months later our software went down for almost three days and we lost over a million dollars in revenue.
The two learnings are only to get feedback from people who are paying you and pay down your tech debt, it’s like playing russian roulette with the company.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Zero to One by Peter Thiel. Absolutely the best book on understanding the theoretical framework behind building distributive technology and keeping that technology dominant over decades.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Our main goal, which hasn’t really changed during the growth of our company is to empower everyone on earth to work wherever and whenever they want. That’s why we built our time tracking system for remote workers on one end (TimeDoctor) and a conference for remote work on the other (Running Remote).
Whenever we add new team members, we focus exclusively on whether they’re aligned to that purpose…you’d be surprised at how many people aren’t and it’s an easy decision for us to get them on or off the bus.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Always optimize for survival instead of scale. Businesses that can adapt to new situations (like the one we’re currently in) are much harder to kill than ones who have optimized to scale as the more you scale, the less you can adapt. Personally, I’d rather be the mouse that survives the meteor strike than the dinosaur that didn’t.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I’m about to have my first child at the end of June and this has been a bit of a challenge for us in understanding what medical resources will be available when we give birth and how to do it safely. I thought I’d be thinking about what kind of stroller to buy or whether we’d get a nanny, but they all pale in comparison to making sure we can give birth safely and I never thought that would ever be something I’d be thinking about.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Mental health of our staff has been the biggest internal issue for us. During the earlier days of the pandemic, a lot of our staff was experiencing serious mental health issues around their own personal safety and that of their families. My energy was being redirected towards being a therapist vs. being their boss and manager. We have started to adjust to this, but the first few weeks I didn’t go a single day without having to pause and do a half-hour call with someone on my team who was in a dark place or affected by this.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
There is a very simple way to beat this virus…stay home. If you must go out, follow guidelines, wear a mask, wash your hands and be smart about it. If you do that your chance of exposure is statistically non-existent and I try to explain that to friends, family and colleagues who are having those types of issues.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
In 2018, only 4% of the U.S. workforce was full-time remote and by our estimated projections, post COVID-19, up to 70% of the U.S. workforce will be remote in some capacity. There are so many businesses and products that will need to support the remote first economy and anyone getting into this industry now will profit tremendously from it. Conversely, anything that is office based will shrink more than 50% or disappear from the economy. I wouldn’t be in office leases as an example, I think if 50% of that industry sticks around I’d be very much surprised.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Urban real estate will drop in value as it was focused on being close to work. Rural and small suburban areas will go up in price as people will want bigger homes to work out of. Most retailers will die as people are now ordering online in ways they never did before and realizing it’s a superior model even post COVID-19.
Location independence or ‘digital nomadism’ by another name will be 10X, as people are free to travel with their new remote working arrangements. I could go on and on, but that’s just the impact of remote work. If I’m even half true on these estimates, it will be a shift we haven’t seen since the industrial revolution.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We ironically were already perfectly placed to take advantage of the remote first economy and COVID-19 turned what was a billion dollar space into a trillion dollar space overnight, so we’re just going to continue on with the plan to empower people to work remotely.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Get into the remote first economy.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The secret to life is being comfortable having uncomfortable conversations. Whenever you feel resistance to a certain action, doing it will almost certainly make you feel better. You can probably think of one right now while you’re reading this. Go do it.
How can our readers further follow your work?
www.Youtube.com/runningremote — we have all our conference talks available for free. It’s also the best place to get in touch and see what we’re trying to do.